The Council of State Governments Justice Center is committed to advancing racial equity internally and externally through our work with states, local communities, and Tribal Nations.


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Racial inequities permeate all aspects of the criminal and juvenile justice systems—from initial contact and victimization, to detention and incarceration, to reentry and reintegration into the community. Policymakers across the political spectrum are seeking ways to reach consensus on how to advance racial equity.

We support efforts to dismantle racial inequities within the criminal and juvenile justice systems by providing rigorous and high-quality research and analysis to decision-makers and helping stakeholders navigate the critical, and at times uncomfortable, issues the data reveal. Beyond empirical data, we rely on stakeholder engagement and other measures to advance equity, provide guidance and technical assistance, and improve outcomes across all touchpoints in the justice, behavioral health, crisis response, and reentry systems.


Our work advances racial equity by helping states and local communities do the following:


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1. Break the cycle of incarceration

Racial disparities in incarceration are driven by who is initially sentenced and for how long, as well as who is returned to prison or jail while on probation or parole. Research has found evidence of racial disparities in recidivism outcomes for people released from prison and on supervision. Our work to break the cycle of incarceration includes a focus on ensuring equal access to the critical reentry resources that are key to successful reintegration for every person. We also help justice agencies and policymakers understand whether their policies on sentencing and revocations are having a racially disparate impact and develop consensus-based solutions.


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2. Advance health, opportunity, and equity

Disparities in access to health care, economic mobility, and housing contribute to the racial inequities we see in victimization and incarceration. We are bringing leaders together from diverse systems and perspectives to strengthen economic access, improve health and crisis systems, and reinvest in communities.


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3. Use data to improve safety and justice

One of the causes of racial inequities in the justice system is unequal treatment of people of color by criminal justice agencies, including decisions about where to police and who receives opportunities for diversion. Data hold the power to help us untangle these sources of racial disparities we seek to eliminate. Our staff’s analyses identify which decision points are exacerbating disparities to develop policy changes that advance equal treatment and fairness under the law.


Internally, we are working to do the following:


• Ensure that our staff, board, consultants, and partners reflect our commitment to diversity, including personal experience in the criminal justice system.

• Establish equitable internal policies and practices. This includes centering equity and diversity through our recruitment and retention efforts, as well as in staff promotion and mentoring.

• Provide ongoing opportunities for staff to learn how to identify and address racism, microaggressions, and racial inequities in the workplace and in their communities and explore ways to move forward.

• Develop skills related to thoughtful analysis, advice, and facilitation techniques to help others advance racial equity.

• Build a truly inclusive work culture with transparent communication and a foundation of shared accountability and respect. Staff should feel fairly treated and able to show up as their authentic and whole selves.